“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” – Samuel Johnson
I’ve been studying abroad in London for a month now, and I must say, it’s everything I dreamed about and more. It’s been hard for me to sit down and catch my breath because there are so many things I want to do, and I’m afraid that if I pause and reflect it’ll feel as though the whirlwind dream is over. At the same time, I’m afraid that when I write I won’t know what to say or I’ll have too much to say and that my words will be inadequate.
Below I’ve compiled a list of my most memorable thoughts and encounters in the month thus far; though the words won’t do my experiences justice, hopefully they’ll give you a glimpse into my life here in London.
1. People think I’m American and also that I smoke
I never really thought I had an accent until people here started assuming I was from America.
I had studied in international schools most of my life so if anything I would’ve picked up an American accent, but it took coming to London to realize that my accent is flatter and harder than those of my British classmates, and I speak more assertively than others and with valley girl inflections I didn’t know were there.
While I am disappointed that everything I say doesn’t sound as kingly and elegant as I had hoped, it’s not all bad; having an American accent has made it easier to spot other Americans and make American friends.
Another thing that happened is I was asked for a lighter on two separate occasions on the same day. I didn’t think I looked like someone who smoked, or dressed like I did, but apparently I do (though I was wearing my leather jacket and Kat Von D liquid lipstick in Lolita that day, so that might have had something to do with it).
2. Study abroad is liberating
Knowing that I’m only in London for three months has encouraged me to go out every chance I get, and try things I otherwise wouldn’t have. I’ve deliberately blocked off Friday afternoons, Saturdays, and Sundays and dedicated them to exploring the city, and feel like I’ve achieved the ever elusive “work-life balance.”
Because I only have ten hours of class every week, I can finish my readings and prepare for lectures during the weekdays. At Northwestern, the majority of my days are spent reading for class or studying for the midterms that furiously roll in after week two. People are extremely competitive, and there’s the need to constantly be “busy” – whatever that means.
Here, I feel less stressed and mentally at ease. I don’t think people are meant to work and study five days a week, and spend the last two trying to get ahead. America has an obsession with productivity which may be one of the reasons why it’s innovative, sure, but sometimes it’s nice not to get caught up in the rat race and just enjoy life as it is.
3. New friends are fantastic, but old ones are just as precious too
I’ve spent approximately 50% of my time exploring London with a new friend (hi, Cherie) who goes to Northwestern but I had never met before coming here.
Cherie was the one who told me about London Fashion Weekend; introduced me to Dans Le Noir? (a restaurant where you eat in the dark); and convinced me to go to Mahiki, a tiki bar I was reluctant to go to but ended up having a great time – and free drinks – at.
Before coming to London, I had been caught up with the idea of traveling alone because I come from an overprotective family and independence is a luxury I can’t always afford. Meeting Cherie has helped me re-learn that there are opportunities you might miss out on and study abroad BFFs you might not get to meet if you try to go it alone (I also owe it to her telling me to buy my pink cap, pictured below – she’s an enabler).
While I was here, I met up with old friends, too. I had dinner with a high school friend I hadn’t seen since graduation (hi, Rebecca) the first week I was here, and it felt good to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar place and fall into old habits again. I caught up with two Middle School friends (hi, Momoko and Haru) and it felt like no time had passed; we talked about boys, laughed a lot, and made plans to meet again next month.
Most interestingly, I hung out with high school friends that I never really hung out with in high school (hi, Michael, Yokey, Teru and Jose). It was strange how comfortable it felt to be in the presence of those with a shared history, even though we may not have crossed paths when it happened, and I’m so grateful to them for being such gracious hosts. I don’t love the institution I used to study at, but because of it I know I will have friends wherever I go.
4. Life will surprise you if you let it
A few weeks ago I went to Sherlocked the Event and made a new friend named Carolina from Nice, France, who I ended up spending six hours and walking around London at night with.
We had both lined up to see Benedict Cumberbatch (yes, the Benedict Cumberbatch) in the wrong area, and talked about how the event organizers should’ve told us where to line up in the first place.
I later found out she was here just for the convention and was free the rest of the night, so we ended up walking to Picadilly Circus, getting dinner at McDonald’s, talking about our love for travel, and riding a 60-meter-high carnival ride beside the London Eye before we said our goodbyes.
This other time, I got a free ticket to a show at Shakespeare’s Globe.
I was wandering around London’s South Bank and wanted to see if I could get inside Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and take pictures. The lady at the gate told me I couldn’t enter without a ticket, but after talking to her for a while, she asked me if I was alone. I nodded and she said, “We have a treat for you.”
The lady beside her took out a folded ticket to Imogen, a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, and said I should go inside and enjoy the second half of the show. The show was funny and contemporary, with allusions to drug cartels and gangs, actors fully clad in Adidas and Nike sportswear, and a hip-hop dance number and acrobatic fight scene.
I had always read about crazy, unexpected travel experiences from others that seemed far from believable and it feels so surreal now that I have my own ones, too. I’ve learned to keep an open mind and to be unafraid to take a chance because good things can happen if you do.
5. And finally, London may be my favorite city ever
I love that there are so many things to do and that they are all so near me. I love the dozens of free museums to peruse, trove of eccentric food markets to pig out at, and plethora of historically significant monuments to admire. I love that I can watch a musical right after class, try a new restaurant everyday, and hit up five Zaras in one afternoon because they’re all within a one-mile radius of each other.
It’s not only the things I get to do here, it’s the culture as well. I love that the British are sarcastic, that everyone says sorry for everything, and that Europeans aren’t overly concerned with being politically correct. I love that people dress up and don’t wear hoodies to class, drink as a social activity rather than to get wasted, and don’t feel the need to indulge in contrived small talk.
Of course, there are things I don’t like. Everyone seems to smoke so you constantly have to hold your breath not to inhale the fumes; there is an insane rush of people at 5pm so you can’t overtake the people in front of you; and British academics write terribly so you forget what point they were trying to make in the first place (I’m looking at you, Politics and Society in Britain 1780-1945 readings).
But overall, those are very minor complaints and I absolutely adore this city.
After my first week in London, I remember writing to my parents saying I was worried I would get bored and used to walking across the River Thames (with the view of the London Eye and Big Ben, no less) on my daily commute because I had already finished a third of the things I wanted to do on my 75-item bucket list and seen most of the city’s iconic sights. I’m approximately 3/4 of the way through my list now, but I’m happy to say that if anything I’ve gotten only more excited to live here and see what else the city holds.
More pictures and posts to come!